April fifteenth arrived, and Festuscato dared not wait any longer. “Tax day,” he called it. “Time to pay the piper.”
He had five hundred Amoricans on horseback and roughly five hundred each in the Welsh, British and Cornish contingents. Two thousand men still did not match the Huns in numbers, and they came nowhere near matching the Huns in skills and experience. Any direct confrontation would get Festuscato’s men slaughtered. He had to be careful.
When Megla first arrived in the fall of 438, he secured Londinium and the southern Thames. This not only gave him a quick escape route back to the continent, but it gave him a first-rate port to be supplied from the continent, and to bring in fresh troops as needed. He still had a spare five hundred men there in reserve, and he spent that first winter there. Then, the spring of 439 he spent burning the southern British coast from Southampton, all the way to Canterbury and east to where the Angles were building settlements. Megla did not seem to care if the people were British or German. He became an equal opportunity oppressor.
In June, having brought the costal lands to their knees, he began to test inland. A thousand men burned their way to the hills of central Wales. A thousand men tore up Leogria and the Midlands. A thousand men drove to the east coast and threatened York. They returned in the fall to winter in the lands of the Raven, but they found some resistance along the way. Julius did a brilliant job of disrupting supplies and communications. Megla took a risk dividing his forces the way he did, and the dragon made him pay. Most of the summer, Megla had no idea what happened outside of his own little group. The dragon kept turning up everywhere, draped over the dead bodies of his men, and when Gurt got returned to him, plummeting out of the sky, it about became the last straw.
On the first of April, Festuscato and Constantine risked the last of the storms of winter and sent the bulk of the Amorican troops, some fifteen hundred foot soldiers under Constans, by ship to crawl carefully along the coast to Londinium. Their objective was to drive out Megla’s men and secure the city and the port in time for Easter. Festuscato’s personal communication network told him they were successful, and by the end of April, they began to move up, a thousand Amoricans and Londoners, to hold and fortify the southern end of the ford of the ox. A monastery complex, that Megla spared for some reason, sat there. Those buildings became the headquarters, and the woods around the monastery provided the lumber for the walls, spikes and traps against the oncoming horses of the Huns.
On May first, Fetuscato, Constantine and King Ban, with a mere hundred men on horse, lead three thousand Welsh and Cornish foot soldiers along the inland road that followed the flow of the Thames. They made a spectacle of themselves, and the British people on those lands and on the coast cheered, and many took up arms and joined them with dreams of revenge. The Huns, for their part had good scouts and spies, and they were first rate soldiers regardless of what history taught. Megla quickly caught wind of the movement and scoffed at an army that would so broadcast its every move. He knew there were a thousand British foot soldiers north of his position, but he counted them as useless. He would go south and send a thousand secretly, as he supposed, to where the river could be crossed, behind the marching behemoth. With his main force of two thousand, he planned to cross at the oxen ford and meet the enemy head on, while the other thousand struck from the enemy’s rear. It was a good plan, as far as it went.
Festuscato had certain knowledge of the enemy movements, but he only shared what was vital with Julius. Julius had the cavalry north of the Thames. They left a few days after the foot soldiers, and they moved through the fields and woods with as much stealth as they could muster. Julius had his original three hundred working well together by then, and they had some experience scouting out the enemy. He did not get fooled when a thousand Huns headed in his direction, looking for an easy ford across the river.
Julius and Marcellus had assessed the horsemen and divided them in half. He gave the men who were still relatively new to this horseback business to Hywel, the Welshman and made Weldig of Lyoness his lieutenant. He assigned Tiberius and Dibs to assist them. They held their horses in reserve and stayed by the river, hidden in the trees, prepared to keep the Huns from crossing. Meanwhile, Julius and Marcellus with the thousand best horsemen waited in the path of the oncoming Huns. Cador of Cornwall went with him, and Emet of York became his lieutenant. They stood at the edge of the trees just beyond a wide-open field. Everyone trusted Julius, but he only hoped he rightly guessed the path the Huns would take.
After not too long, Lord Pinewood flew up to land in the mane of Julius’ horse. “What news?” Julius spoke first with a glance at Cador who kept his seat and stared.
“The Huns will be coming through the trees on the far side any time now.” Pinewood saluted the Lord of Cornwall. “Good to meet you. I like the Lion. Good choice.”
“Th-thank you,” Cador stammered. “So, Festuscato?” He looked at Julius.
“Strictly human,” Julius responded.
“But.” Julius continued. “He has made it clear that we won’t always have Lord Pinewood and his people around to help us out and we have to learn to do for ourselves. He said we need to fight our own battles.”
“Of course,” Pinewood said. “What else would we be? We aren’t animals.”
“Plants?” Julius teased.
“Your wife, maybe,” Pinewood responded as two riders came roaring up.
“Lord Julius.” The rider from Wales spoke. The rider from Cornwall acknowledged his Lord. “The Huns are about a quarter mile in the trees across the field. They should be coming out any time.”
“Thank you,” Julius said. “Good work. Report to your group.”
“Sir.” Both riders spoke and took off like two men in a race. Emet of York came up alongside, and Marcellus trailed. Pinewood excused himself and took off too fast for the eye to follow.
“News?” Emet asked.
“Yes,” Cador said. “We need to fight our own battles,” and Emet looked at him as if to wonder why it might be otherwise.
When the Huns began to straggle out from between the trees, Julius raised his spear over his head and shook it. Word went quietly up and down the line to get ready. Julius and Marcellus made sure there were Plenty of the three hundred spaced between the thousand to help keep the new men in line and focused on target, to await orders. All it would take was a couple of overanxious fools to ruin the whole thing. They waited some more, and Emet got antsy when the lead Huns got close enough to see their faces.
“We want them committed to the open field before we attack,” Marcellus risked a whisper to the man, even as Julius raised his spear again. After another moment, he tucked it beneath his arm and shouted for the charge. His immediate group were the first out, but the wave followed out from the center and the Huns were completely unprepared. It did not take the Huns long, though, to get their own spears and some bows from horseback, and the battle was on.
A horn sounded out from the trees, and the Huns that were scattered across the field made every effort to get back to the woods. Julius let them go. His men were instructed not to follow the Huns into the woods. Horses were only as good in the woods as the men riding them, and Julius had no illusions about the ridership of his men. Several pairs of men split off to attempt to track the Huns, but even they were instructed to keep their distance. “You are no good to us if you get yourselves killed,” Julius reminded them.
They stayed in the field long enough to gather horses and gather their dead. They tended the wounded enough to staunch the bleeding, but moved as quick as they could to the south. They had a small village up from the river where the wounded could receive better care and the dead could be prepared for burial. The village had a Christian Priest and a chapel, and the priest assured them all would be taken care of. The first pair of riders found them there while the men rested, and the second pair were not far behind.
“It was like you figured,” the Amorican said. “They circled around to the north and are headed back to the river and the ford.”
“And they have scouts out,” the Briton added. “It isn’t safe for a couple of yahoos to be out there.”
“A strange sound that carries in the wilderness. A signal of sorts,” Julius explained.
Cador nodded. “I was thinking we need to get something like that horn where we can signal and we can all understand and respond.”
“Bagpipes,” Emet said. “British blue. plaid”
“Golden,” Cador argued. “Like the Cornish Lion.”
Julius ignored them and sent a pair to tell Hywel and Weldig by the river to get ready and stay well hidden.